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China's premier line

by DoDo Fri Jul 1st, 2011 at 03:59:04 AM EST

Last year, I detailed why China is The new high-speed superpower. Now, on 30 June 2011, the most important line in the rapidly expanding high-speed rail network opened: the one between the capital Beijing and the largest city Shanghai. A line of superlatives:

  • although at 1,318 km, it is the third shortest of the eight main high-speed corridors of the emerging national network, it is the world's longest built as a single project;
  • of this, 1,060 km (80.4%) is elevated or on viaducts, including a continuous 164 km near the Shanghai end that is the world's longest;
  • to cover the distance in a short enough time, planned top speed was set to be the highest in the world: 380 km/h;
  • consequently, it was also the world's most expensive project at Yuan 220.9 billion (€23.8 billion);
  • it is expected to become the world's second busiest.

A 16-car CRH380AL on a test run at Zhangxiazhen, where the line crosses the conventional line in the mountains between Jinan and Tai'an. Photo by user yaohua2000 from Skyscraper.com

The high-speed rail plans of the Chinese government started with this line, but it was such a big challenge that plans for a whole network emerged and several other lines were started before there was enough confidence to start this project. Then it grew ever more ambitious. In parallel, new trains were developed, which make for interesting comparisons with their Japanese and German brethren, and even a test train to attempt to beat the rail world speed record was announced.

However, after a change at the helm of the Chinese Railway Ministry, planned top speed was reduced to 300 km/h. The reasons included an intent to make high-speed services both more economical and more affordable for common people. Meanwhile, the annual budget for the construction of further lines was slashed by 30%. Even so, just with what is already in construction, most of the core network of a country the size of Europe should be in place by 2015 at the latest, bringing a sea change in the long-distance transport structure for 1.3 billion people.

The long road to Shanghai

Shanghai is China's financial centre and largest urban area (population: 18.7 million in 2011). Political capital Beijing is also the third largest urban area (14.2 million). The rail route between them also runs through Tianjin (6.8 million) and Nanjing (4.2 million). Trains running on conventional tracks (mostly upgraded for 200, even 250 km/h) with travel times just under 10 hours already carry over 100,000 passengers a day, while last July, Beijing–Shanghai was the world's fifth busiest air route at around 22,200 seats per day.

This level of demand is exceeded by one corridor in the world only, the one connecting Tokyo and Osaka in Japan (with three urban areas above 10 million along it). There, traffic is dominated by the world's busiest high-speed line, the Tokaido Shinkansen (around 138 million, or 378,000/day, even in GFC year 2009, and air/rail market shares of at least 82%). From the nineties, China looked for a similar solution for its similar transport problem. However, there was one difference that made a big challenge: length.

The rule of the thumb is that high-speed rail can beat air on relations it can cover in under three hours (though there are examples with four hours or more). The distance of Beijing and Shanghai is two and a half times that of Tokyo–Osaka (Vmax = 270 km/h), and more than two times that of Madrid–Barcelona (presently Vmax = 300 km/h), and still more than a third longer than Wuhan–Guangzhou (Vmax = 350 km/h on opening). So the planned line's length not only meant high costs, but going into uncharted territory with technology, calling for well-thought-through decisions.

The Chinese government took its time to consider multiple options. On one hand, as discussed in last year's diary, there were attempts to develop the technology domestically. In parallel, the government looked at the example of its neighbours, South Korea and Taiwan: the complete import of a foreign technology (trains, track, electrification, signalling) with technology transfer. The prospective competitors included high-speed rail makers from Japan, Germany and France (the last two initially as allies) as well as the makers of Germany's Transrapid maglev, who built their first and only commercial line between Shanghai and its airport. However, with the years, nothing came of this: the domestic development proved too problematic, while the foreign producers found themselves in endless fruitless talks.

Instead, a route was chosen that resulted in the least dependence on any foreign producer and the best circumstances for continued development of domesticated technology:

  • Not waiting for line construction, China ordered high-speed trains with technology transfer – from all three major West European rail giants and a Japanese maker at the same time.
  • The government kept strategic control over infrastructure development, including the contracting of actual construction work: there were no general contractors for an entire line.
  • Consequently, a common high-speed line standard was developed, which combined track technology imported from Europe, the wider Chinese cross-section, and superstructures with mass-produced prefabricated elements.

The first section to be built was the Beijing end of the Beijing–Shangai Passenger Dedicated Line (PDL), to be ready for the 2008 Olympics, as a quadruple-tracked 200 km/h section. However, advances in construction technology domestication and the big motivation of national prestige led to escalating ambitions: plans were quickly upgraded to a 300 km/h elevated line on its own alignment, then design speed was raised to 350 km/h before opening, then it was decided that this 117 km line to Tianjin shall become a mere "intercity" line and the Beijing–Shanghai PDL shall get its own elevated tracks for even higher speeds.

Trains for 380 km/h (vs. trains for efficiency)

When commercial traffic started on the Beijing–Tianjin Intercity Railway, it was presented as the world's first train service with a top speed of 350 km/h. However, this was pushing the technology, as the trains used for the service were developed for 300 km/h, and indeed actual top speed was later constrained to 330 km/h for one train type while another was withdrawn. After this, a series of minor modifications were developed for both types, so that regular 350 km/h could be achieved at least in spurts on the Wuhan–Guangzhou PDL two years later.

To achieve travel times over the Beijing-Shanghai PDL that were competitive with airplanes, the railway ministry wanted to go even bolder: 380 km/h. Despite my scepticism, the development of suitable trains – in fact three different types at the same time, all three in both 8-car and 16-car versions – proceeded apace. What's more, while I criticised the original development plans as still too loose, the effort got more serious, with a long testing programme at proper speeds of up to 420 km/h. Meanwhile, however, the national prestige aspect of the three new types was underlined by a re-classification: originally foreseen as sub-classes of classes named CRH2, CRH3 and CRH1 respectively, they became the CRH380A, CRH380B and CRH380D.

I already introduced CRH380D last year. This (still in development) train is a member of Bombardier's relatively new and untested Zefiro platform, which had only one previous delivery version before: the CRH1E. The other two, however, are developments by the Chinese industry. In both cases, the foreign supplier recently came out with a further development for its domestic market, which makes for interesting comparisons.

The Chinese rail industry put most development effort into the CRH380A. In particular the re-designed nose with 10% less air resistance bears almost no resemblance to its origin, the E2 Series Shinkansen. Together with several other changes, aerodynamic noise was reduced 5%, while a number of running gear changes improved stability and ride comfort.

In a trial run last December on a completed section of the Beijing–Shanghai PDL, the first 16-car unit achieved a new national speed record of 486.1 km/h, also a world record for an unmodified series unit.

A 16-car CRH380AL (L for long) leaves Shanghai Hongquiao for a test run in May 2011. Here the Beijing–Shanghai PDL is flanked by a four-tracked conventional line (left) and the also high-speed Shanghai–Nanjing Intercity Railway (right). Photo from 10000 Link

In contrast, JR East's new E5 Series Shinkansen is meant for only 320 km/h, and even that shall be reached in steps. This train, however, was not simply faster: it is meant to consume an amount of energy, emit a level of noise, and stop in a braking distance similar to that of the earlier 275 km/h E2 Series. Compared to its Chinese step-sister, the nose aerodynamics is more outlandish, the pantograph (the biggest single contributor to air resistance above 300 km/h) has few external parts and a much lower cross-section, the high-voltage train cable was 'buried' into the roof of the cars, and the bogie shrouding is complete. Ride comfort is enhanced by complete active suspension and a tilting ability. The March 2011 début of the type was overshadowed by the Great Tohoku Earthquake, which also damaged its line north-west of Tokyo.

A brand-new E5 on a test run near Miyagi, north of Sendai, in October 2009. Photo from Tec-chan's Shinkansen blog

The CRH380B looks little different from its CRH3 predecessor, or its sisters in Siemens's Velaro family. This is less of a surprise considering that the original Velaro carbody (the one for Spain) was designed for 350 km/h. But several details changed: a sturdier windshield, more streamlined humps for pantographs and air conditioners on the roof, rubber bands to seal gaps between cars, modified underframe shrouds at bogies. In a test run on 9 January 2011, the second 16-car unit, shortened to 12 cars, again broke the national record with 487.3 km/h. A further ordered version, the CRH380C, got a slightly redesigned nose and some Shinkansen electronics.

A 16-car CRH380BL nears Beijing South at the end of a test run. The slab tracks of the high-speed line are flanked by the ballasted tracks leading to a giant new train depot. Photo by user yaohua2000 from Skyscraper.com

The new Velaro D, or German Railways (DB) class 407, is again a model for just 320 km/h but higher efficiency. The most visible difference to the CRH380B is the roof: it was raised continuously to the level of the air conditioners, a solution reducing air resistance more than any tinkering with hump shape. This alone brings 5–8% for the entire train, with all other changes the reduction is up to 20%. For this, weight was saved elsewhere. Another novelty is the crash-optimised front with vertically opening coupler cover. The trains will enter regular service early next year, and some are to cross the Channel Tunnel and serve London from late 2013.

The first DBAG class 407 crosses the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal on the Nuremberg–Ingolstadt high-speed line. Photo by user NIM rocks from ICE-Treff

Not so fast

China's highest-speed ambition seemed unstoppable. The Beijing–Shanghai PDL itself was finished early and opening was brought forward by half a year. Meanwhile, two test trains for 400 km/h service speed were built (a CRH380A and a CRH380C with added powered axles), and plans were announced for a further test train intended to break the world record of 574.8 km/h (set by a French TGV in 2007).

But then, in February 2011, the railway minister who oversaw the high-speed push was removed on charges of corruption, and under his successor, the plans changed: top speed was reduced to a 'mere' 300 km/h, lengthening the shortest Beijing–Shanghai trip to 4 hours 48 minutes.

Three reasons were named: better economics due to lower operating costs; affordability to common people due to lower fares enabled by the lower operating costs; and increased operating safety. Let me start a closer look at these arguments by quoting my own list of difficulties to overcome, which made me doubt the 380 km/h ambitions three years ago:

  1. Economics of energy use. At high speed, air resistance is the overwhelming factor, and its force increases with the square of speed. You need to multiply force with speed to get power, so power goes with the cube of speed: that means +28% just from 350 to 380 km/h, +103% compared to the 'standard' 300 km/h!

  2. Noise emissions. Unsurprisingly, the relationship with speed is almost the same as for traction power. But noise emission limits are not flexible, unlike train power and ticket prices, so this is a more pressing concern.

  3. Ride comfort. The stronger forces mean more carbody motion, which is fine on a test run, but regular passengers might not like it.

  4. Track wear. Stronger forces mean more strain for rails and trackbed, which means they have to be replaced quicker. High-speed tracks are rather expensive. (Just the other day, on the Cologne–Frankfurt line that sees 300–330 km/h traffic, it was found that rails have to be replaced much earlier than planned.)

  5. Safety and train frequency. A lot of potential accident factors (side winds, track fatigue, etc.) are more severe at higher speeds, and there may be unknown new factors, ones you would rather discover in multi-year top speed test runs. One of these factors is signalling. It is critical because of the opposed needs of having a safe stopping distance between trains, and running trains as frequently as possible. No system proved itself yet at 350, not to mention 380 km/h, so you either risk accidents during signal trouble or have to run much less trains than possible at somewhat lower speeds.

Considering the first point, the improvements with the CRH380A look less impressive. The Chinese media quotes a rule of the thumb that above 320 km/h, costs double with every 10 km/h increase – that would be an even steeper function than just energy use (my point 1), so I suspect this also covers an experience of increased maintenance costs.

Now, operating cost is just one of the factors behind economic performance, and not even the most important. On the cost side, there is also the cost of the infrastructure (annualised in the form of depreciation charges), and the cost of financing (interests). On the income side, there is ticket income, determined by fares and demand (ridership). And the way these factors developed has similarities with the story in Taiwan:

  • The Railway Ministry of China (and its co-financiers in individual projects) chose financing with credit that's not long-term and low-rate enough.
  • Ticket prices were set between conventional train tickets and airline tickets, assuming that riders of the latter will switch to the cheaper offer and riders of the former will swallow it once those services are scaled down. Note however that the conventional train–plane price gap was much wider in China than in developed countries, meaning that for some train riders changing to high-speed trains, fares quadrupled.
  • Actual traffic on the first opened PDLs was then a half-success: while railway ridership increased massively, and airlines were beaten to a punch, ridership was still behind expectations, and the lines operated at a loss.

Some examples. Regarding the crushing of the airline competition: the number of passengers on flights competing with the Wuhan–Guangzhou PDL dropped by half in just one year, and airlines withdrew completely from the Wuhan–Nanjing route after the launch of 'only' 250 km/h fast services. As for ridership and income: compared to conventional train ridership the year before opening, the Beijing–Tianjin Intercity Railway carried twice as many in its first year and three times as many in the second; but will need four times as many to break even, burdened by loans maturing in 5 to 10 years with interest rates above 6%.

It is hoped then that a new operating concept, with two service types with top speeds of 300 km/h resp. 200–250 km/h and cheaper fares, will draw more people with lower incomes and make lines break even. And speed reduction is not the only new measure for economic efficiency sold as part of the affordability drive for common people: also, the luxury class seats of the current airline-style three-class seating are being removed from the trains, to make way for the (higher capacity) traditional two-class seating.

A CRH5 on a test run on the Beijing–Shanghai PDL passed a CRH1 on the parallel conventional line at Zhangxiazhen in the mountains between Jinan and Tai'an. These types will operate the cheaper, 250 km/h max services. Photo by user yaohua2000 from Skyscraper.com

Now, as someone who criticised the policy of setting HSR fares higher than conventional rail fares and lauded a different approach (see Puente AVE), I can only applaud this 'democratising' of high-speed rail in China. But, as much as I'm tempted to see a confirmation of my 380 km/h doubts, I don't think the economics is the whole story. For, none of the economic arguments would be one against operating three different types of high-speed services on the Beijing–Shanghai PDL. If, in addition to the 250 km/h and 300 km/h services, some non-stop trains would run at 350–380 km/h and with an elevated fare, the increased train and track wear would be less significant, while it would be possible to please budget-conscious former conventional rail passengers and travel time focused former airline passengers at the same time.

Lacking insider information, I can only speculate on the real reason. On the technical side, one possibility is that cracks appeared in some critical component during testing (axles would be the primary candidate; for others see my comment a year ago). Another is that signalling didn't work reliably during tests (see point 5 in my list quoted at the start of the section). It is also possible that signalling would have worked at 380 km/h, but with trains of three different speeds on the line, capacity would have been limited too much. However, there is also the possibility that the reason is outside the railway sector: maybe the new powers that be were well-disposed towards those who wanted to avoid a collapse of domestic airlines with the loss of the most lucrative connection.

Then again, speeds won't be reduced on all existing lines: the Beijing–Tianjin and Shanghai–Hangzhou intercity lines shall maintain higher top speeds.
An eight-car CRH380A test-running on the Shanghai–Hangzhou Intercity Railway in September 2010, looking south-west from Jiashan South Station. Train services on this line reach 350 km/h. Photo from Railcn.net

The emerging network

While the Beijing–Shanghai PDL is opening, several more are in construction or planned with opening scheduled for the next few years.

Updated sketch map of China's PDL network and other fast lines, adapted from Wikipedia's PDL network map (click to enlarge in-page).

Line style indicates top speed:

  • Thick: 300 km/h or higher
  • Medium thick: 250 km/h
  • Dashed medium thick: 200 km/h with some 250 km/h sections or speed-up planned
  • Thin: 200 km/h

Colours indicate progress:

  • Green: upgraded conventional line in service
  • Blue: new line in service (purple: Beijing–Shanghai PDL)
  • Red: in construction
  • Grey: planned

Here, too, the new railway minister is putting on the brakes. On one hand, he criticised his predecessor for channelling funds into ever newer high-speed line projects that weren't part of the original strategic plan. On the other hand, he cut the annual construction budget from Yuan 700 billion to 500 billion (c. €75 billion to €54 billion), which should mean a slow-down even for existing projects.

Construction of the Huilong Viaduct along the Guiyang–Guangzhou PDL. Photo from China Railway 13th Bureau Group

Still, even with the slowdown, given that most projects are already in advanced construction, I expect almost the entire basic network to be in service by 2015 at the latest. And this is something more than spectacular: a new mode of transport is emerging practically overnight as a complete system, something passengers will view as a medium between any two major cities rather than a possibility on some choice relations; and something the operator can operate efficiently as every part was built to the same standard. The only downside is the risk that sudden needs for track maintenance may arise simultaneously.

:: :: :: :: ::

Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

As for a look beyond high-speed rail... China's high-speed rail construction on crack has been described as a bubble. From a macro-economic viewpoint, it is certainly desirable to at least prevent the collapse of the construction industry once most lines have been constructed already.

In parallel with the high-speed boom, China also continued with the rapid construction of conventional freight-and-passenger mainlines. This certainly won't stop for some time: Western China in particular has a still underdeveloped transport infrastructure.

Also in recent years, Chinese cities started subway construction on crack. While it is relatively well known that Shanghai now has the world's longest metro network and Beijing is not that far behind, three more cities plan networks rivalling those of New York and London and two dozen more are busy boring tunnels or building elevated lines for their networks. In a few years, most cities with multi-million populations will have heavy-rail rapid transit. This construction frenzy is poised to last at least until 2020.

If I could advise Chinese leaders, I would suggest another sector to extend rail construction well into the future: light rail. While light rail can serve as a(n especially orbital) distributor in cities with metros, it can even be the backbone of transit systems for cities with a population down to a hundred thousand – in China, that could mean a potential demand for hundreds of systems.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jun 30th, 2011 at 04:57:35 PM EST
China amazed me twice recently, first extracting the e coli strain of the German food poisoning, and this. They may be marching beyond what other do not want to give credit to.

I will become a patissier, God willing.
by tuasfait on Fri Jul 1st, 2011 at 03:27:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding giving credit, there is a story to tell that I didn't want to cram into the diary.

The domestic rail industry was mostly perfecting transferred technology. This included hybridisation: in particular, the Velaro nose support structure (which keeps the nose rigid against wind pressure) replaced the lighter Shinkansen structure in the CRH380A. Meanwhile, some key parts (like motors, power electronics, gears, pantographs) were still supplied from abroad. However, the new trains were presented with nationalistic propaganda, to the extent that sometimes the foreign suppliers weren't mentioned at all.

In particular, there was a row between China and Siemens when a contract for CRH380B trains was announced the the former as one for two Chinese companies exclusively, while Siemens revealed itself as third contractor, and the Chinese media got wind of it. Siemens also insisted that it never transferred the technology for some core components (hence the new version, the CRH380C, with Hitachi electronics).

Meanwhile, however, in a rail technology journal article describing the Velaro D (which I compared to its CRH380B step-sister in the diary), Siemens says that some of the aerodynamic improvements were "tested on Velaros in China". Now, the Velaro D's front design, windshield, support structure, roof extensions, and the spoiler below the nose ('cowcatcher') are new developments that can't just be applied to an existing train, and the underframe shroud cutouts for the bogies are necessarily different due to the narrower cross-section. The remaining possiblitires are: the diaphrams between the cars, the bottom of the train, and perhaps the pantograph wells (the 'holes' in the raised roofs into which the pantographs are lowered).

Then, the question is: who originated these designs (which are present in both the CRH380B and the Velaro D), Siemens or its Chinese partners? It may well be that Siemens practised some reverse technology transfer.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jul 3rd, 2011 at 08:34:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Railway Gazette: Beijing - Shanghai high speed line opens

CHINA: The world's longest high speed line was inaugurated with simultaneous departures from Beijing and Shanghai at 15.00 on June 30, as part of events marking the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.

...According to the ministry, construction has used twice as much concrete as the Three Gorges dam, and 120 times the amount of steel in the Beijing National Stadium. There are 244 bridges and 22 tunnels built to standardised designs, and the route is monitored by 321 seismic, 167 windspeed and 50 rainfall sensors.

There is more about the speed reduction controversy, with an added argument:

Denying suggestions that this is due to safety concerns, He Huawu, Chief Engineer at MoR, stressed that 350 km/h operation has proved successful in China.

However, 300 km/h running on the Beijing - Shanghai PDL will increase capacity and lower operating costs, allowing lower fares to be offered and a wider range of rolling stock to be used...

...and they don't want the speed reduction to appear final:

Raising speeds in the future would depend on how traffic develops.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jul 1st, 2011 at 05:31:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Chinese news clip (with the culturally funny ceremony at launch and an intermediate stop, and the Beijing-end inaugural train's departure 7:40 in):

Chinese news lip of the 486.1 km/h record run:

Edited-together amateur videos by staff about the 487.3 km/h record run (both external and on-board shots):

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jul 1st, 2011 at 05:52:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
An extension to one of Dublin's two light rail lines is opening today - see Luas

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jul 1st, 2011 at 09:40:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Argh - the fuss over 'the Luas' gets to me.  It's a tram.  Many other capital cities have networks of these.  Dublin used to.

But in Ireland any form of public transport is exceptional and a thing to be marveled at, and installed for twice the price of anywhere else.

by Pope Epopt on Sun Jul 3rd, 2011 at 08:14:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, it is a pretty sleek looking piece of hardware.

I'm not sure whether the big windows are a good idea, though - might feel like a greenhouse in the summer.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jul 3rd, 2011 at 08:17:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ireland is hardly exceptional in procurement incompetence. Look at this site or this site for stories on how the Yankees' public agencies are giving mass transit a bad name.

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Sun Jul 3rd, 2011 at 11:29:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Suburban rail and RER-style systems might be an option too. I've read that Chinese cities haven't really got anything like that. Someone somewhere on SkyscraperCity argued that some metro lines in Shanghai (IIRC) are too long and slow because they're being made to do the job of suburban rail -- they reach a long way outside the city centre but still have very short distances between stations.

And then there are lots of plans for rail links to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, etc, and a standard gauge freight corridor to Europe...

by Gag Halfrunt on Sat Jul 2nd, 2011 at 11:28:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Last I looked (years ago) Shanghai was supposed to get a RER-type system (with R1, R2,... lines) with the extension and re-designation of choice metro lines (see here for example), apparently the plans were shelved?

UrbanRail.Net > Asia > China > SHANGHAI Subway - Metro

Metro Line 9 (Shensong Line) was conceived as a regional express line (R4), to run from Xu Jia Hui on Line 1 towards the southwest to Song Jiang New City, but it has eventually been developed as a full metro line across the city centre. When it opened in Dec 2007, it was not yet connected to any other metro line.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jul 2nd, 2011 at 12:05:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
About the rail links: more important than the direct links, the Chinese rail (and road) construction industry quite consciously tries to expand all around the world, but, as recent developments showed, that is a risky business that may not suffice as replacement for the giant home market.

  • In Libya, a programme to build thousands of kilometres of railway to span the entire country was launched under Gaddafi, with China Railway Construction Corp getting a big chunk of it. But work is on hold ever since the rebellion started.
  • Chinese companies pursued mayor projects in a number of other African countries, complete with Chinese government loans in support, but problems arise. In Nigeria, there was a project on the Libyan scale that foundered when a new President came in. There is also a light rail project where funding was withheld from the Chinese contractors.
  • In the road construction sector, there is also a European example, a highway in Poland, where subcontractors closed ranks to ruin their business plans.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jul 2nd, 2011 at 12:40:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was wondering about the speed records. I checked whether they are for real by 'extrapolating' the records of earlier trains. If we approximate the reduced power need from better aerodynamics with the 5% noise improvement, and train resistance with just the aerodynamic part, then some of the numbers add up:
  • a CRH2C with its original 7.2 MW power rating achieved a record of 370 km/h. The very same train, just by up-rating to 8.76 MW, should be capable of attaining 395.0 km/h – check: it achieved 394.2 km/h.
  • An also 8-car CRH380A is again up-rated to 9.6 MW. Assuming 5% less drag, 413. km/h should be possible – check: it achieved 416.6 km/h.

However, while the long trains should be faster, I get lower numbers:
  • A 16-car CRH380AL is more than twice as powerful (20.44 MW) while drag should be significantly less than twice as much: assuming 40-45% of the 8-car train's drag for the pantograph and front, the 16-car train should have about 50% more. However, I get only about 461 km/h.
  • A CRH3C had 8.8 MW and achieved 394.3 km/h. The 8-car CRH380B has a little less drag, say 2%, and more power (9.2 MW), but the relative increase is less than for the CRH380A. So, although there are no test results yet, it can be safely assumed that this will be a slower train, barely capable of passing 400 km/h.
  • The CRH380BL has exactly twice as much power, which, with the above figure for pantograph and front drag, wouldn't allow it to go faster than around 436 km/h!
  • After some trawling today, I discovered that the record run for the CRH380BL was conducted in a reduced 12-car formation (diary corrected accordingly). That means only about 25-30% more drag than the predecessor, and a 'predicted' maximum speed of around 466 km/h.

My extrapolations for the long trains are still around 20 km/h below the actual records. I am therefore guessing that the records were 'helped' by a downward slope or sustained tailwinds, or maybe even an 'overclocking' of the motors.

:: :: :: :: ::

Another editor's note: I added a picture for the Shanghai-Hangzhou line (messed up draft), and a sentence about the E5 Series Shinkansen's roof.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jul 1st, 2011 at 05:27:33 AM EST
Done a great post, as you always do do, DoDo.  I wonder if you could measure the actual speed from the videos, perhaps timing against the overhead support posts?  There doesn't seem that much independent filming around though?
by njh on Sat Jul 2nd, 2011 at 06:05:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If post distance is the standard 75 m, then it should be a little under two posts per second. The clips are too short to say more than that it is around that.

But I'm not doubting that the measured speeds displayed on the monitor are sufficiently precise. Also, I should add a fourth possibility to tailwind, downward slope and motor overclocking: maybe the real outlier is the 8-car CRH380A record (i.e. it is 20 km/h less than it could be), and I am significantly underestimating the air resistance improvement for both types. It's a tall order, though: I estimate a 20% improvement for the CRH380A and a 13% one for the CRH380B would do the trick, but given that the improvement for the CRH380A front alone was just 10% and the pantograph wasn't replaced, underframe, sidewall and car joint improvements would have had to be very radical.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jul 2nd, 2011 at 08:51:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What a modern superpower looks like as the US falls into decay.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Fri Jul 1st, 2011 at 08:55:01 AM EST
Well, the USA had >50% urban population by 1920, which is approximately where China is today. In the case of China this is only maintained through strong government actions to maintain rural populations at high levels due to problems assimilating immigrants from rural areas into their already strained urban areas. In the USA the decay is the predictable result of allowing a small, wealthy elite to loot the rest of society by acting on the world stage with no international regulations.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Jul 1st, 2011 at 11:18:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I read somewhere having a body surface like a golf ball reduces aerodynamic drag. Is anybody working on train car designs like that?

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Fri Jul 1st, 2011 at 11:23:09 AM EST
I mentioned it at the end of the China wants 380 km/h trains diary. That was three years ago, but I'm not aware of further research after what I wrote about there.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jul 1st, 2011 at 11:41:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Part of the problem with trains is that they are close to the ground. If you want to reduce drag on a land vehicle, you need to get it up a ways. Something like this, based on work of Jaray and Klemperer in 1920:


by asdf on Sun Jul 10th, 2011 at 12:14:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A belated reply: for trains, raising the bottom brings little benefits. Trains are too long and their underside has too many aerodynamically disturbing elements (bogies, inter-car transitions, brake equipment etc.) for a boundary layer flow below them; instead, there is a turbulent annular flow. What can be done is reducing the turbulence, and that is done the opposite way: with skirts and covers bringing the bottom closer to the rail. I find Chinese research saw much potential in this (although their percentage compőarisons are meaningless without specifying what are compared).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 13th, 2011 at 10:13:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
although it will be interesting to see if the chinese cut any corners with the construction, over the next decade as things wear out. if they manage to avoid tofu construction, this will be a serious long term strategic win for them.
by wu ming on Sat Jul 2nd, 2011 at 02:48:49 AM EST
I think the track itself was built with strict quality control, and the prefabricated bridge decks probably left little room for cutting corners either; my fears would concern the bridge pylons: with unstable ground in most places, widespread subsidence problems in a few years due to improper foundation work wouldn't be surprising.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jul 2nd, 2011 at 03:18:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
on its HSR route in the past couple of years. overpumping aquifers is a bad idea for a whole host of reasons.
by wu ming on Sat Jul 2nd, 2011 at 05:52:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps China and the US can exchange expertise.  A safe, dedicated Passenger Rail line is likely to be cheaper over many years than piecemeal improvements on existing rail lines.  On the other hand, the new Chinese Passenger Rail lines provide additional track space for freight trains.  The freight trains in China are not up to North American standards, perhaps there will be work for BNSF and Union Pacific bridge and track engineers in China.

Stephen Karlson ATTITUDE is a nine letter word. BOATSPEED.
by SHKarlson (shkarlson at frontier dot com) on Thu Jul 7th, 2011 at 01:12:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The US could also share expertise in building escalators at the stations.
A teenage boy has been killed and dozens of people were injured when they were thrown off an escalator that suddenly changed direction in a busy Beijing subway station.
Has anyone heard of anything like that happening anywhere before?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu Jul 7th, 2011 at 04:16:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, every couple of years one tries to eat people, I think.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 7th, 2011 at 04:19:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
people die of everything, picking out one example of a death somewhere in the world and from that infering that that country cant make item x is sketchy at best. On the average year 200 people in the UK die from their interaction with stairs. perhaps we aught to swap for escalators?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Jul 7th, 2011 at 04:23:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It happened last week, so I wasn't just cherry-picking an example. But a bit of research turns up that there might be a specific reason for it to have happened in China. According to a Shanghai paper
Subway Station Escalators Speed Up, Disorderly Passengers Cause Frequent Accidents

Inside sources revealed that certain stations on the new "Three Lines and Two Extensions" opened at the end of last year raised the speed of their escalators within the allowed limits to 0.65 meters per second, 0.15 meters per second faster than standard escalators. Subway passengers should be orderly in boarding the escalator to avoid accidents when riding the different speeds of escalators that now exist at different stations.

I've no idea whether this is the station that had the accident and the reference to speed reminded me of the fast escalators in St. Petersburg (it turns out that there was a much worst accident on a Moscow escalator in 1982, but I've no idea if speed was a factor).
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu Jul 7th, 2011 at 04:44:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem in the US is more keeping the escalators running ~ stopped escalators are, I believe, little more dangerous than stairs, but are not as effective as operational ones in moving people into and out of the station.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 7th, 2011 at 05:34:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Over many years, beyond the threshold distance for a Rapid Rail system, and above the threshold passenger-km ridership to justify an Express HSR line, a dedicate passenger line is cheaper, and the threshold passenger-km ridership to justify an Express HSR line, a Rapid Rail incremental upgrade is cheaper if there is space available within the existing right of way.

Looking for "which is the cheaper" sui generis is posing a question that is flawed from the outset. One size fits all solutions never fit all, and are always a poor fit for many.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 7th, 2011 at 05:38:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"and the threshold passenger-km ridership"

... and within the distance threshold for Rapid Rail and under the threshold passenger-km ridership ...

... what should have been copy and pastes were unintentionally cut and pastes.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 7th, 2011 at 09:20:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... tradeoff, there's no reason why these over-engineered lines shouldn't be run at the much more efficient speeds of 150-200 km/h.
by Pope Epopt on Sun Jul 3rd, 2011 at 08:16:16 AM EST
And back to a ten-hour ride from Beijing to Shanghai? I don't think so. 150-200 km/h is nice for a country for the size of Austria or Ireland, but only means air transport boom (and much lower energy efficiency) where there are distances of 300 km or more.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jul 3rd, 2011 at 08:44:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In a country used to sleeper trains, there might be two sweet spots : one at 3hrs/trip, which allows for same days returns, and one at 8hrs, which allows for the ideal 12AM - 8AM night trip (see St Petersburg-Moscow as an example). Beijing Shanghai already had that time of travel before the new high speed line...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sun Jul 3rd, 2011 at 09:33:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Once the Beijing-Wuhan and Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Kowloon high-sped lines will be complete, the 8 hour per trip will be Beijing-Kowloon for the sleeper high-speed trains (the "E" subclasses).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jul 3rd, 2011 at 11:57:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Depends on what you do with the trains. It is not impossible to imagine "business class" cars with fewer seats but more table space and fast internet access. If you can put in eight productive hours on the train, it beats wasting four hours in planes and airports where you can get nothing useful done.

But you'd have to re-think both the train side and the business side of such an arrangement. And re-thinking is painful.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jul 3rd, 2011 at 10:43:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But how large a segment of the air/rail demand is that? This is not an entirely new idea: the Metropolitan trains of the German Railways were all-first-class trains made for businessmen, with "Office" seating that included a plug for each seat and cell phone repeaters (no WiFi yet 12 years ago), that ran between Cologne and Hamburg. The service ended after five years (1999-2004), due to low occupation.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jul 3rd, 2011 at 12:10:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You can only put people in a confined space for 8 hours (awake) if there is no other practical alternative. That's where the 3 hour rule comes from. Thrombosis can be a nasty thing.

But I agree that very high speed service of say 350+ km/h is an artifact of a cheap energy environment. It will become more of an elite activity (e.g. if a serious electricity starts hitting China). Someone will have to decide what speed is fast enough. I guess 250-300 is the maximum we will see in the energy-austere future.

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Sun Jul 3rd, 2011 at 12:55:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well if energy shortage is serious enough to ground airplanes and cause widespread blackouts, I think we would be back to 120 km/h (and 24-hour trips), making most of regenerative braking.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 4th, 2011 at 01:41:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Vietnam has widespread blackouts and 50 km/h trains, yet still has airplanes...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Jul 4th, 2011 at 02:51:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Unless prohibited by regulation, there will always be airplanes for at least a small segment of the population. They're fundamentally more efficient than trains for carrying small loads at high speeds. Once past the first few minutes of climb, they fly where there is significantly less wind resistance, they go in straight lines, they don't stop at stations along the way...

There are multiple transportation problems to solve, and airplanes are the best solution for some of them...

by asdf on Mon Jul 4th, 2011 at 11:40:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ehh.. No. Energy is only fungible in certain directions. It is very plausible - indeed likely - that oilshortages could limit air travel very heavily without impacting the supply of electricity at all. Particularily in china, which has a grid which is going to be all hydro-nukes-coal.
by Thomas on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 06:44:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You failed to notice "...and widespread blackouts".

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 04:50:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yhea. Because I dont belive in them. The world can, and will, have oil shortages. The price of coal is going to go through the roof for anyone not on top of a coal mine in the medium term, the natural gas boom is.. well, its real, but its not going to be cheap natural gas. None of which matter an iota.
Electricity is the lifeblood of civilization, and whatever it takes to keep it flowing will get done. There are two possible futures for electricity; 1: The price of wind keeps dropping and extremely large scale storage schemes like the granite piston idea are put into practice providing, cheap, renewable and on-demand power to the world.
2: Renewable energy stays vaporware, and the political opposition to nuclear gets ground into a red paste beneath the insatisable demand for more juice as carbon based power becomes ever more expensive, and the world ends up with a breeder reactor in every city. Unsafe? Possibly. But not remotely as suicidal as letting the power go out. Nations without reliable electricity have utterly abysmal average lifeexpectancies, and this is not just correlation, its causation. Lack of electricity kills people.

There is no 3; "the world fails to produce enough electricity to meet demand". It is simply not a plausible outcome.

by Thomas on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 05:26:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Wind power is cheaper than nuclear with current technology. Even when, as at present, nuclear is allowed to externalise final storage and decommissioning costs.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 05:38:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The context I am assuming is that of a completely low carbon grid. This changes the cost calculations drastically because it means wind no longer gets to externalize its load balancing costs onto the rest of the power sector, because there is no rest of the power sector.  This is, however an issue that can be solved with sufficiently heroic civil engineering. Google "granite piston storage". I promise you will like the scheme ;)

-- Secondly, I would very much like it if you provided me a link documenting a current producer of nuclear electricity who does in fact externalize the costs you mention. Because I cannot at the moment think of any examples.

Thirdly: There is no such thing as "The cost of wind" and the "Cost of nuclear" at the present time. The per-kwh-produced cost of wind is massively dependant on location and climate, and same calculation for nuclear is extremely sensitive to the political context of the construction programme. For example, I very much doubt you are correct in, oh, South Korea. Or China.

by Thomas on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 05:57:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
-- Secondly, I would very much like it if you provided me a link documenting a current producer of nuclear electricity who does in fact externalize the costs you mention. Because I cannot at the moment think of any examples.


Economics is politics by other means

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 05:59:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The context I am assuming is that of a completely low carbon grid. This changes the cost calculations drastically because it means wind no longer gets to externalize its load balancing costs

Neither does nuclear, and there is no reason to believe a priori that nuclear will have lower load-balancing costs than wind in a properly run grid.

Secondly, I would very much like it if you provided me a link documenting a current producer of nuclear electricity who does in fact externalize the costs you mention. Because I cannot at the moment think of any examples.

Right now spent fuel rods are being kept in on-site storage in much of the world. That was, as you surely recall, one of the things that blew up in TEPCO's face. Those fuel rods are going to need final storage at some point, and if that doesn't happen before the plant is decommissioned, you're essentially betting that the company in question will not use its limited liability status to pull a Bhopal.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jul 19th, 2011 at 07:11:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actively cooled initial waste storage is an inherent nessesity of all solid fuel reactor designs. - fresh waste is just too hot to go straight into final disposal. If you want rid of this problem, it is nessesary to transition to reactor designs that permit online reprocessing, like the molten salt reactor, or this http://www.rbsp.info/rbs/RbS/PDF/aiaa05.pdf rhing.

But advanced reactor research is depressignly underfunded. It really would not take very much money by government research programme standards to build a prototype of either of the above.

by Thomas on Wed Jul 20th, 2011 at 01:20:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Re balancing costs.. Are you joking? A nuclear grid needs sufficient balancing capacity to timeshift about less than half its output 12 hours. A full wind grid would need about ten times that. This is not an insurmountable problem for wind - as I said, google granite piston (I really like that idea. Its clever, and should work) but neither is it equivalent.
by Thomas on Wed Jul 20th, 2011 at 01:23:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Re balancing costs.. Are you joking?

No, I'm considering the actual economics of load-balancing, which depend on how much electricity you need to balance, not on how much capacity you need to build (combined-cycle gas turbines are cheap, converting pig shit to biogas is expensive).

So you need to make the case that wind requires more MWh per year than nuclear, not that it requires more MW (which is not necessarily the case either - nuclear being more concentrated, it requires more backup capacity to deal with unexpected plant closure).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jul 20th, 2011 at 08:19:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
and the political opposition to nuclear gets ground into a red paste

this sounds pathological... your rage at anyone who doesn't buy your belief system is justified in your mind because said non-believers and their airy fairy prejudices are going to cook us all with their ignorance.

either this is impulsive, extreme rhetoric, or something much more rabid. either way, i don't see your belligerent, haughty choice of words doing much to advance the justice of your convictions, no matter whether you are eventually proved right or wrong in coming to them.

'red paste' huh? you may want to walk that back, in the interests of all. your words may lead to someone's actions later on, and you may then regret them. the only people you 'inspire' with talk like that are rabid foamers already, who might take this as encouragement/incitement/permission to act out the homicidal scorn you seem to feel...


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Aug 6th, 2011 at 05:46:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... is the ability to have same-day return trips ~ whether business trips or personal. Save the motel/hotel stay, and you have a substantial gain.

For 8hrs, "here Monday, there Tuesday, here Wednesday" only works for sleepers ~ other than that, you are dropping out of the same day trip markets and restricted to the multi-day trip markets.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jul 3rd, 2011 at 09:50:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed. Currently the 3-hour threshold for me is Vienna; if I have to go to a meeting further West, it's by night train.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 4th, 2011 at 01:43:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In Western Europe, sleepers are slowly disappearing - but in Russia or China, sleeper train is the basic mode of long distance transportation.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Jul 4th, 2011 at 02:50:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Precisely, because the sleeper doubles up as the hotel.

The only way I can make weekend trips from Madrid to Paris make sense from a cost point of view is to go by sleeper on Friday night.

Economics is politics by other means

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 4th, 2011 at 05:21:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course, the ideal doubling up as a hotel would be for the sleeper car to go to Paris be dropped off at a siding, accessible to metropolitan transport, and then picked up again for the return trip to Madrid Sunday night. Then you could use the same sleeper compartment all weekend.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jul 4th, 2011 at 10:36:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, the golden era of private sleepers for the robber barons' use !

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Jul 4th, 2011 at 11:35:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They're still out there, you know...
by asdf on Mon Jul 4th, 2011 at 11:48:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Damn. Now I want to become a robber baron !

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Jul 4th, 2011 at 12:42:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm thinking more a 21st century version as flying becomes more expensive.

The baseline is a comfortable sleeper coach. I've been on the 3 seats across, 60 degree recline overnight bus in Latin America, not hard to have a dual purpose sleeper / day coach that has each third row rotate the the seat back and seat up to allow the other two to space out for a sleeping recline.

Other service are built up on top of that. Keeping the same roomette for a day trip (during the week) or a weekend is one of the possible options to think through along the way.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jul 4th, 2011 at 02:50:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's something to ponder... The demise of rail travel occurred before the sexual revolution of the 1960s. If overnight rail journeys become more common, and if the cars were set up dormitory style and not segregated by gender, there could be a massive uptake of this--compared to being stuck in a car with your room-mate.
by asdf on Mon Jul 4th, 2011 at 05:27:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Quite. There's got to be some kind of cabin option.

Indeed, I was thinking of the "drop off roomette cars" as the third of three classes ~ coach sleepers, cabins, and roomettes. Cabins are convertable seats / sleeping, with shared facilities. Roomettes are long haul style cabins with the miniature facilities built in.

One presumes that the hanky panky in the coach sleepers would happen at the very least in the shower stalls among travelers patriotically doing their bit to save water by sharing a shower.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jul 4th, 2011 at 06:55:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]

let me surface from the shadows a bit (I am a long time reader of the rail diaries).

I would like to read the members' opinions on the latest crash in the China line.
Maybe this should be a separate diary entry?


by nfotis on Thu Jul 28th, 2011 at 06:39:35 PM EST
Hi, nfotis. I think DoDo is away today, but will no doubt reply when he's back.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 29th, 2011 at 02:30:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the meantime, enjoy their disastrous press conference dialogues:

http://blog.theepochtimes.com/1/china/2011/07/29/railway-signal-company-holds-a-joke-of-a-press-conf erence/


by nfotis on Sat Jul 30th, 2011 at 03:31:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL... reality again beats parody.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Aug 6th, 2011 at 04:41:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The news coming out in the media is too confused and contradictory for me to write anything diary-length. I commented on the technical aspects of the accident on first news (when it was reported that lightning hit the train) here, and yesterday here. As a further comment, whatever was the real reason, this train control failure and the public management of the accident paint an even worse picture of recklessness than what I inferred from the 'overspeed' practice and the 380 km/h ambitions.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Aug 6th, 2011 at 04:39:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A recent post doesn't give much light on the subject, but I include it for coverage:


In general, it seems that both technology and humans failed in a spectacular (and deadly) fashion.


by nfotis on Sun Aug 7th, 2011 at 11:48:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the meantime, Chinese government recalled 54 trainsets for checking/retrofit (if I guess correctly):


This doesn't jibe with the official line that the signaling system was at fault, though...


by nfotis on Sun Aug 14th, 2011 at 08:45:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From other news, the recall affects the CRH380B type (the improved version of the CRH3C, that is the Siemens Velaro CN):

China recalls bullet trains in new blow to technology - Yahoo! News

Train maker CNR's President Cui Dianguo said the CRH380B-trains had "experienced a number of quality failings," and the recall would lead to a cut in services on the 1,318 kilometer (820 mille) Beijing-Shanghai route, which takes about 5 hours.

In an earlier statement, the state-owned company said it found faults in signaling systems, sensors and communications components on the trains, which it blamed for delays in service.

This must be unrelated (unless they found the train control system error during post-accident safety checks).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Aug 16th, 2011 at 02:47:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Missed this! Instead of the linked blog post (which misinterprets some points), let me go through its source, the original Caing story.

Rapid Rail Horror on a Rainy Zhejiang Night_English_Caixin

D3115 had stopped several times because the engineer had received track warnings from a dispatcher at a control station in far away Shanghai. The dispatcher's messages were based on "red-light zone" messages flashing on his computer monitor.

...Only dispatchers are aware of these zones; locomotive engineers receive no such data.

Of course he receives data; what they might mean is that the dispatcher sees the red-light zone in advance, and sees the whole extent of the red-light zone.

At 8:15 p.m. on July 23, the D3115 had yet to clear a red-light zone. But the dispatcher decided to let it depart Yongjia slowly. A few minutes later, the train stopped again as it was approaching the red-light zone.

Passing a suspected malfunctioning signal at slow speed is standard procedure; you are practically progressing on sight until the next signal which is hoped to function correctly. (On conventional lines without central dispatching, locomotive drivers are authorised to do so on their own.) But here the next signal was red, too, so the signal disturbance appears to have been broader.

Red-light zones can be problematic for dispatchers, who are under pressure to keep trains running on time.

This can only get problematic if dispatchers can overrule the automatic safety system to the extent of ordering them to progress full speed ahead into a red light zone, which would indeed be a glaring safety error. However, this wasn't established in the article; they only spoke of the order for the first train to move ahead slowly.

The dispatcher told the D3115 engineer to proceed despite the red-light zone and ordered "visual driving," meaning the speed could not exceed 20 kilometers per hour. But a few minutes earlier, dispatchers from the same office had given the D301 permission to proceed from Yongjia, at a top speed of 200 kilometers per hour.

Again, the problematic part is the permission given to the second train (D301); and how it could have been given in the first place.

For example, a group of foreign experts told Caixin that locomotive engineers need at least three months of training before they can safely operate a high-speed train. The Chinese ministry, however, sponsors only 10-day courses for new engineers, said a source in the rail ministry.

Huh... though, hard to tell, the two figures might correspond to different types of courses: one as training of high-speed train driving from the ground up, the other as training for experienced drivers switching from one high-speed train type to another.

In addition to fast-paced track laying, the railways ministry pushed Chinese contractors to develop high-tech signaling and safety equipment for the bullet trains.

Now that's probably a key point. We could barely get ETCS L1 going in ten years, yet China created its own version in two years.

A rail traffic management consultant explained that due to the rapid development of high-speed trains in China, "as long as a company manufactures something, it can sell it. It doesn't matter if they produce 100 substandard products. As long as they can produce them, they'll make money. Time is paramount throughout the whole industry."

Indeed this might or might not apply to the problems that hit the CRH380B. If it applies to signalling system parts, it's even worse. But it's not simply quality; it's getting around technology transfer limitations:

A source who participated in past high-speed rail technology negotiations with foreign companies recalled that "the foreign side's technology transfer had a bottom line: They would only transfer design drawings for some parts and teach us how to manufacture them. But some core things, especially software code, they wouldn't transfer."

And then the own replacement was put in in haste (a recuring theme in the article).

An, the Shanghai bureau director, said flawed signaling equipment at the Wenzhou rail station failed after being struck by lightning. After that, he said, signals seen by engineers that should have been red were mistakenly green.

"At the time of design" the signal makers "should have considered that if there were a breakdown at any time, the signals should display red lights," said Peng Qiyuan, a professor of transportation at Southwest Jiaotong University.

Just what I said: if true, this is a fundamental fail-safe deficiency.

Despite the flaws, the railway ministry and its closely linked state contractors have been unwilling to accept companies from outside their circle of business friends.

Eh. This is just my opinion, but methings suppliers from outside the rail sector (which they mean) would have made even more error-prone signalling system equipment, being inexperienced.

Rapid Rail Horror on a Rainy Zhejiang Night_English_Caixin

A backup layer of protection... rear-end collision prevention system... cannot work without properly functioning ground-based signaling equipment, which on July 23 failed.

Given the braking distances involved, some equipment for train location and communication is necessary, and indeed involving ground-based signaling equipment is the only option with current systems. But, if I read this right, the problem was signals giving bad signals, not signals out of order. Hence, it might be that the rear-end collision prevention system could have been designed to ignore the state of signals and derive only train location from the data stream, but wasn't.

Engineer Pan Yihang was driving the D301 through a tunnel and rain as these system failures occurred. As his train emerged from the tunnel, he spotted the other train on the viaduct ahead. He quickly hit the emergency brake, but it was too late.

On impact, the brake handle pierced Pan's chest and killed him.

Poor guy...

Apparently there were technology-related mistakes after the accident, too:

"Why aren't you saving people?" Yang remembers shouting at the rescuers. "There are still people in there!"

He was answered by a police officer: "They used a life detector, and there were no signs of life. There's nothing inside but dead bodies."

Yet the rescue team's life detector, a special piece of equipment for finding disaster survivors, failed to find a 2-year-old girl who was found alive in the wreckage more than 20 hours after the crash.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Aug 16th, 2011 at 05:13:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Got some more data from a Greek railfan forum
(yes, there are Greeks who love trains and everything related to these!)

We got a video link:

(obviously, I do not know Chinese, if someone of the readers here can verify it, we would be grateful)

Here is the list of the events according to the video and a reader:

  • Signals near Wenzhou South were found to be malfunctioning, all showing red.

  • D3115 arrived into Yongjia (north of Wenzhou South) 4 minutes late

  • A decision was made that the signals are to be over-ridden and manual operation commenced from Wenzhou South control centre

  • Manual operation commenced from Yongjia control centre

  • D301 was informed of manual operation and made an unscheduled stop at Yongjia at 20:12

  • D3115 departed from Yongjia 27 minutes late

  • D301 was given the clear to proceed

  • D3115 reached the start of signal failure area and stopped

  • D301 departed from Yongjia at high speed, with his signals all showing clear

  • D3115 began running towards Wenzhou South at 20 km/h

  • D3115 driver reported a passenger operated emergency stop, unaware his train has just been rear-ended.

Some comments from a Greek poster:

It's not known why they didn't wait for the preceding train to reach the next station before sending off the next one during the manual operation
(N.F. this is supposedly the only safe way to run in 'dark territory')

It was written that the trains got directions from two different control centers, there was pressure to minimize delays due to bad publicity of previous days, and that they were getting a bonus when they reduce delays.
Due to the language barrier, it is impossible to verify anything.

The dead toll could be MUCH worse, since 1600 people were in the two trains.

There was no understandable motive behind the decision to bury the damaged coaches without giving clear and consistent explanations, raising a major outcry:

by nfotis on Thu Aug 18th, 2011 at 08:24:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
D3115 driver reported a passenger operated emergency stop, unaware his train has just been rear-ended.

Ah, that inconsistency is cleared up now, too.

It's not known why they didn't wait for the preceding train to reach the next station before sending off the next one during the manual operation
(N.F. this is supposedly the only safe way to run in 'dark territory')

Ah, it finally starts to make sense. So all this dispatching was radio dispatching after the automatic signalling system was ruled malfunctioning, and the key mistake seems to be the launch of two trains within station distance.

It was written that the trains got directions from two different control centers

I would think normally, each control centre at the two ends of a section with failed train protection would dispatch trains in one direction. If D3115 and D301 were dispatched by two different control centres, that explains the two trains within station distance, and constitutes another very fundamental mistake. But, even so, it remains unexplained how the dispatcher of D301 could have missed the train ahead on his screen.

there was pressure to minimize delays due to bad publicity of previous days, and that they were getting a bonus when they reduce delays.

This is discussed in the Caing article, but, without seeing how exactly it was technically possible in the system/within the rules to dispatch two trains into the same section, and how it was possible to miss the train ahead, I'm not sure if this is relevant.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Aug 18th, 2011 at 09:51:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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